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I slam the phone down in a fury—having just completed another round of verbal open fire with one of my closest friends.
Whilst I was not the cause of her seething anger, I was always the one she peppered with her anger bullets whenever she was in a situation where she could not for one reason or another, fire them at the intended target.
Me, being the blunt, defensive b*tch that I am, usually give back as good as I get, and then—boom—it explodes.
I would love to proclaim next that this is one-sided, but I also often mirror her behaviour. This is the foundation upon which our friendship is built on. It’s a victimless crime—committed by two criminals. We are both condemned.
Like clockwork, I knew how the next few days would unravel. A few blunt messages, followed by a gradual dissipation of tone in messaging, then finally a phone call—sometimes instigated by me, sometimes by her—where we would both reinforce our care for each other and agree we were both ridiculous by way of a cloaked apology. Round and round we go in this reciprocal cycle of toxic exchanges and remorseful reunions.
We excuse both of our behaviours’ based on our closeness.
Our excuses usually contain one or some of the following lines:
>> We are each other’s safe spaces
>> I can say anything to you and you don’t take it personally
>> You are one of the only people I can be this vulnerable with
>> We can be so honest with each other
>> I know we can vent at each other because we always make up
>> It’s because I am so comfortable around you, I can speak to you like that
>> You know I don’t mean it
>> You know what I’m like
>> Me and you can laugh it off
Like a drug, we come back for more—again and again, happy to take the bad days because the good days outweigh them (or so we tell ourselves).
We are each other’s rocks but also throw rocks at each other. This repetitive dose of slap and soothe is one we are well versed in. This is unconditional, honest, open friendship. It’s our thing, it’s our way—it’s totally normal, right?
My epiphany came late one evening. Scrolling through Instagram, I came upon a post which stopped me in my tracks.
The post was about Trauma Bonding and posted by Dr. Nicola LePera, aka, the Holistic Psychologist:
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In a recent article for Cosmopolitan, relationship therapist Marie Raleigh, defines trauma bonding as “an emotional attachment characterized by a repeated cycle of devaluation that is mixed in with positive reinforcement.” She goes on in the same article to say, “With trauma bonding friendships, “There are warning signs around lack of reliability and emotional and behavioural consistency.”
Does any of this sound familiar? It sure does to me.
My friend and I have been through a lot together. Both having shared negative experiences, it’s clear to me now that a codependency gradually built over time had fused us together and our bond was bound further by this shared negativity, which we constantly perpetuated in each other.
Trauma bonding can happen in any type of relationship. Be that familial, romantic, platonic, or work related.
Instead of being each other’s solution, we have inadvertently become part of each other’s problem.
We claimed to be the best of friends but shared the worst of behaviours. We had become each other’s safety net and each other’s jailor. Our best intentions gave way to the worst-case scenarios and we wound each other up like a pair of jacks in the boxes.
These emotional cycles of ups and downs leave us exhausted and constantly in fight mode. Walking around on eggshells and being afraid to give our truthful opinion on something is not a hallmark of a healthy friendship—it’s negligent friendship, it’s fraudulent, and it’s hollow.
And yet an invisible string still brings us back—to our safe space—to each other.
I am not clinically trained. I am not able to say with any degree of certainty if this type of friendship is born of genuine unconditional devotion, a trauma bond, or is just simply toxic. But I have learnt that it is not normal. It should not be accepted, and most importantly, it shouldn’t be excused as closeness.
It is not okay to treat someone as your personal human “verbal” punching bag if you are upset.
There is no acceptable circumstance for you to made collateral damage in an argument you are not involved in. Our connections and bonds with someone are never enriched by this; they are damaged.
When we have a deep love or respect for someone, that is not a free pass for them to act badly toward us—regardless of “how comfortable” you make them, how “free to be themselves” they are in your company, how much they believe you will take it “with a pinch of salt.”
If it isn’t a trauma bond, then it’s just a sucky excuse and you need to start applying boundaries with a capital B (but that’s a whole separate article).
We are all human. We all have connected and disconnected relationships; we are shaped by our childhoods, our upbringing, our adult traumas, and experiences—but that does not give us a free pass to treat people badly.
I don’t believe that these sorts of friendships are past hope, past fixing, or beyond the reach of change. I do believe that they need to be called out for that change to occur. A realisation must happen—we must pull back and recognise the damage being caused and work together to rectify that.
We simply need to choose whether to continue the cycles or try and break them. This will be the true test of the strength of your bond.
Having that tough conversation will either be the death knell or the redemption of your friendship—but either way, it cannot continue as it is.
It’s important to realise that these sorts of toxic behaviours in our friendships are never bonded by love—they are bonded by trauma.
Most importantly, we are never loved or appreciated more in accordance with the level of sh*t we are prepared to take.
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